Having started in 2008, the I Do Podcast is one of the older podcasts out there on marriage. Host Chase Kosterlitz “interviews today’s most successful and inspiring relationship experts, therapists and couples.” It’s audience is a general relationship audience so this interview is not faith-based in it’s content.
Episode #386 was an interview with Dr. Sytsma about the Secrets of Sex and Marriage book. One of the early podcasts on the subject so this information was covered in most other podcasts.
From their episode page:
We all want to have better sex lives, but it’s not always easy to make that happen. Understanding the research around desire, arousal and our biology can go a long way in helping us improve our sex lives. Listen to today’s show to learn some key tools and insights that will help you improve your sex life today!
In this episode with Michael Sytsma, we discuss relationship advice topics that include:
- The different types of desires that men and women exhibit and how understanding them will improve your sex life
- The difference between desire and arousal and key points about both areas
- How to bring the art of seduction into your relationship
- The importance of creating a healthy connection outside of the bedroom to improve your sex life
- Important questions to ask your partner about sex
- The number 1 turn on for women according to research
- Creating a vision for your sex life in your relationship
- Navigating pain issues during sex
- And much more!
Dr. Michael Sytsma is an ordained minister, licensed professional counselor, certified sex therapist, professor, and national speaker. With over 30 years of clinical experience in sex therapy, he founded Building Intimate Marriages, Inc. and co-founded Sexual Wholeness, Inc. For more information, visit intimatemarriage.org.
(note: transcript is AI generated and will contain errors. Listen to the podcast for accuracy.)
January12, 2023 • 31:57
Hello, everyone, thank you so much for tuning in to today’s show where I welcome Dr. Michael Sytsma. And Dr. Michael is a licensed professional counselor, certified sex therapist and certified professional counseling supervisor. He is also an ordained minister with the Wesleyan church and he received his PhD specializing in marital sexual therapy within original research dissertation on sexual desire discrepancy in married couples. And you might have guessed it, that’s where we start we talk about all things sex, and a large portion of the show about desire and discrepancy, how it shows up what exactly desire is the difference between desire and arousal, how to communicate around sex, and so much more. So if you’re looking to have a better sex life, this episode is certainly for you. Whether you’re in a relationship, a marriage, or you’re single and dating, these are tools that you want to have. And I always enjoy talking about this because I think it’s so valuable in the communication stuff can be applied to all things in our relationships, not just communicating around sex. So as always, thank you guys so much for tuning in for leaving those five star reviews. You know, some of you may be listening on Spotify, we have close to 1500 reviews on iTunes, and just a few hundred on Spotify, because we got on Spotify much later. So if you enjoy listening to our show, and you’re on Spotify, or iTunes or wherever you’re at if you just take a couple minutes to leave us a review. We really, really appreciate that and enjoy today’s show.
Hi, Dr. Mike, thanks so much for joining me on the show today.
Thanks so much, Chase. I appreciate being here.
Today we’re going to talk about your new book Secrets of sex and marriage. And a lot of research went into this book, a lot of research is referenced. And I thought a good place for us to start would be having you maybe explain a little bit about how this book came together. And then we’ll dive into some of the exciting things that you guys are putting together to help people improve their relationships.
Thanks. Yeah. This book is coauthored with Shanti Feldhahn and she does research projects and then writes them up. They have just recently completed one on money in buried twitches. She did an excellent job and reached out to me and said, if we’ve talked about one of the big rocks in marriage, let’s talk about the other one, would you be willing to work with me on a project on sex and marriage in some of the surprising truths that would make a big difference in couples. And we set about and did four different research studies as a part of this. Two of them nationally representative samples, meaning they reflect 2018 census data in terms of age where people live, faith, race, and ethnicity, we worked really hard to getting him to match what is national. My PhD came from University of Georgia, considered a tier-one research institution took seven courses, doctoral courses in Research and Methodology so I can get kind of picky about some of that. And we got back 502 matched pair couples, meaning these are married couples, the surveys were anonymous to each of them. So as one takes a survey, the wife doesn’t know what he answers and the wife takes one. He doesn’t know what she answers, but we were able to tie them together to know who’s married to who that allows us to ask questions of the husband, what does your wife think and ask wife what she really thinks. And we get some really fascinating information on how well they know each other. And then we have 1100 people that are married, but we don’t have their spouse data in a second survey. And then another one was called a convenient sample. It’s people that were coming to workshops, retreats to talk on marriage, and we asked them to take the debt surveys as well. And that gives us a higher distress group to work from. But they do not come close to matching us the census data. So those those surveys bring us some really rich information as we ask some specific questions on sex within marriage.
So you mentioned surprising truths. So I want to dive into some of the specifics. You talk about desire and communication in the book, what are some of the surprising truths that you guys find? Through this research?
I think what are the things that stood out most to, it’s probably the greatest surprise when people started listening to what we found, is the differences in types of desire. As a certified sex therapist, I’ve got about 2400 hours of formal training in sex therapy and have worked for about 30 years as a sex therapist listening to 10s of 1000s of hours of story. So for us is sex therapist, this isn’t horribly surprising. But for the general public to learn that there are different kinds of sexual desire. In the book, we talk about a initiating type of desire, a type of desire, that’s, you know, you’re sitting in the car, and it’s in Drive. And even without your foot on the gas, it’s just kind of slowly inching forward, you almost have to put the brakes on in order for it to not go anywhere. And we kind of think that’s the type of sexual desire that is identified most commonly in the media, you see a couple sitting across from each other, and their eyes light up and, and they reach out and begin to pursue and initiate with each other. And they both really want this. And most of the couples that come to see me as a clinician or those that show up at workshops, seminars, are pretty clear that that’s not how it tends to go in their relationship, and to point out to them that a initiating type of desire is only one type of desire. There are a host of reasons for biologically for that an initiating type of desire, it tends to be a bit more common in males. If we ask the question, do you experience desire before any arousal? Most men will say that they do while most women tell us that that’s not how it works for them, and older men will tell us the same kind of a thing. If we ask, so are there times where you choose to get engaged, and you’re aware that your body is getting aroused? This feels good to you, then the desire shows up? When we ask that question. Most women will tell us Yeah, that’s that’s usually my experience, that it may be five And it’s into the process before desire shows up on the stage for us. And we call that a receptive type of desire. And that’s a very normal type of desire. And, and are just asking couples what they feel is most common for them. 73% of wives 73.1 said that that receptive type of desire tends to be most typical for them. And just the awareness that those two types of healthy normal desires exist tends to be a surprise for a lot of people, for a lot of couples. There’s also a resistant kind of desire that shows up in a small number of people where it’s kind of like they’ve got the brakes on. But the receptive desire, and the car analogy is there kind of a neutral. They don’t have the brakes on but they’re not in Drive. And it takes some external type of energy, to get them moving forward to get them to drop into Drive, and getting them to the place that they want to move forward. And I spend a lot of time talking with my couples about seduction, how do we draw people into that forward moving space, but that the different types of desire exists is probably one of the biggest surprises for couples.
I want to dive into this, there’s so much here. So obviously, that’s a big thing. If you mentioned, men tend to be an initiating type of desire in women, receptive. So just the fact that those are two very different approaches. I’d like to talk about those differences and how they can create problems and how we can navigate it. First, can you define the differences in between desire and arousal?
But that’s a really good question that is being wrestled with in the sexology field. You know, where does one stop and the other one began? And what order do they kind of go in, because for arousal, there is both a physiological arousal where the person but that the nervous system is involved and is prompting blood flow. And, you know, we’re getting flushed. And we began to feel our body is shifting and feels some excitement. That’s more of a physical type of arousal. But there’s also a subjective type of arousal, where I am feeling aroused, just in my spirit, that the energy is there for you. And I’m looking forward to it. And those can be even very different. Often that subjective or emotional, thought based type of arousal is very similar to desire. You know, I’ll often use the example of, let’s say, chocolate, somebody might not have thought about chocolate all day. But if I began to talk about chocolate, or they smell it, and we began thinking about it, now the desire might have turned on. And that’s more receptive type versus the individual who walks in thinking, There’s got to be chocolate in this building someplace, that’s going to be more the initiating type. Once we’ve smelled it, and our our mouth starts to water, and we’re craving, that’s where we would probably say there is some arousal. But you’re right, the line gets kind of blurry, and those at times, and part of what we’re encouraging people to be aware of is it may take a bit more physical arousal, we may have to choose to engage in the process, before that strong subjective arousal and what we often think of as desire is more present, to where it’s like, Don’t you dare stop I’m enjoying this is kind of the desire that we’re looking for.
So how can a couple navigate a few different things, but let’s start with maybe what is the most common and disruptive is a discrepancy in desire, where, where one person wants it more than the other?
I think our media and you know, the fantasy types of stories tend to show couples where both have an initiating type of desire, where she glances at him across the room, and she just wants his clothes off. She wants to engage. And we get an idea that that’s normal. That’s how it should be. And quite honestly, we all want to be wanted. We all want to be desired. But when we asked couples again, we’re asking them what is predominantly most like you at this point in time. And that’s probably an important little caveat to put in here is, is we don’t just because I might tend to be more initiating type of desire right now does it mean that I always will bleak or always have been. Just because I’m more receptive right now doesn’t mean always will be or always have been depends sometimes on age, what else is going on in life, it can depend on the state of our relationship, what’s happening with me physiologically. So, that does shift a little bit. But we do tend to have at large seasons of life, a more predominant type. And we like to think that most couples are going to both be initiating. And yet our research showed us that only about 10% of couples, both report that they are predominantly initiating in their type of desire. So that’s only one in 10 couples, where they fit what we tend to see as the stereotype. If we look at the most common, we’ve got, right about 60% of couples, where one is the initiator, and the other is receptive, which is, as you identified, what most couples are distressed about, I want to I am initiating and my spouse, whether it be the husband or the wife isn’t not very open to it. They’re not seeking it out with me. What does that mean about us? What does it mean about the relationship, and part of what we’re encouraging them to understand is, that may just be how they’re wired at this point in time, they may be more receptive, which means they may have to choose to engage in an environment that’s safe to choose to engage and allow their their bodies to kind of warm up. Unfortunately, like we said, less than about 4% of individuals are resistant. So you’re usually not running into somebody who has the brakes on. But you’re probably running into somebody that you need to maybe up your game, and how do I What tactics can I use that would help them to drop into Drive, that would get them experiencing some desire. So if you tend to be the initiating spouse, you’re probably going to be reaching out more often, if your spouse isn’t receptive, they’re probably not going to be reaching out. And so rather than get bent out of shape, or punish them or withdraw, or all the things we tend to do when we are getting what we want. I invite spouses to take on the challenge accepted, I can figure out how to draw you into a space that you would want to engage with me that the receptive desire kicks in.
Before we continue on, we’re going to take a short break to tell you about our sponsors. …
I think this leads us into another one of the topics that we wanted to talk about. And that’s communication. Because this all kind of plays out on a subconscious, semi conscious level, right? Like it seems like these desires are physiologically built into us. And they change as we age and Media and Culture impact it. But it does seem like a deeper biological basis for these things.
We think so Chase, and if we can take just a bit of a rabbit trail, some of it depends a bit on, like I say where we’re at in the relationship and where we are physically, physically, you know, a woman who has just given birth, for example, is going to be fairly maybe into that receptive desire often, just because that’s where our body is that and some of it is just how intense our own desire is, we don’t understand sexual desire very well. We don’t understand why some people will tend to have a very high sexual desire. And why some people tend to have a very low sexual desire, and we really struggle with how to raise or lower, we don’t understand direction, either why some people are, are find their sexual desire attracted to certain body types, or to certain types of individuals or certain things. We just don’t understand that very well. And we don’t, we’re not able to shift it well. But when we step back and look at couples, we tend to see that one one’s spouse is a higher drive individual and one spouse tends to be a bit of a lower drive individual. And that plays in sometimes with the initiating receptive piece as well. We asked couples who is the highest drive individual in your marriage. And most of the times both husbands and wives said that the husband was that about 60% of marriages paraded around it was interesting of the husbands 20% of the husband said my wife has the higher desire higher drive individual on our marriage, almost 30% of wives said I am. So there was a pretty big discrepancy there and read about 14 15% of couples said no, we’re pretty evenly matched. What was fascinating cases we we step back and we actually then tested them to see who is the higher drive the higher desire individual versus the lower one. And 22% of couples came back saying that they’re they experienced the same level of sexual desire. And that was far higher than either the husbands or the wives believed. And one of our takeaways was were closer than we think we are. We’re more alike than we think we are. And or to put it in a more negative term. Maybe we’re not as far apart as we think. Right About 27% of the couples, the wife was the higher drive individual. And we’ve been seeing that number creep up a bit over time. But those are unique individuals where the wife is saying, Why doesn’t he want me? I thought all men were always wanting sex. And about half of the couples, the husband was the higher drive individual. And that plays into the initiating receptive confusion at times as well. Which brings us to what you’re just saying, the ability to communicate about these. If couples can communicate better, or more effectively around desire, I think we see couples learning that way. We’re not as far apart as we thought we were. And that is a dramatic shift that I work for in my office. And some pretty cool things happen when we see that shift occur?
How can we create that shift create that awareness in that communication? And then what are some practical tools for to people that are wanting to connect sexually, but from two very different approaches if we go with the initiating in the receptive desires,
so how this plays out often in my office is standing across from a couple. And let’s say they’re the 50 in the 50% of couples, and he’s the higher drive individual. And I look up and I say, Well, if it were totally up to you about how often would you like to engage in sexual activity with your, with your wife? And the most common answer I get from husbands is two to three times a week. And I look over at the wife and I say, if it were totally up to you about how often would you feel good about engaging in sexual activity with drugs? And the most common answer I get from wives is one to two times a week. And I look at them and I say, you know, guys, there’s not much difference between two and two. And that’s the data that came back, when we asked wives, most of the wives the average for them was that they would feel good about having sex, a little bit more than one time per week, a little less than two times per week, somewhere in that range, where the guys were saying, two to three times per week. And often, the high desire spouse will look at the low desire spouse at this point and go, wait, what you want it how often? If that’s how often you want it, why are we having it that often? And I like to interrupt them at that point? And point out that that is the right question. Because the question that generally brings them into therapy is what’s wrong with my spouse, or what’s wrong with me that we don’t have sex, as much as I would like to have it, you know, there’s, there’s gotta be something wrong with with both of us here, or either of us here. And when they realize, Wait, we’re not that far apart. And neither of us are having sex as often as we would like, which the research is extremely clear on that fact that couples, their actual versus their ideal, there’s a pretty big difference. And, and when they can look and say, Wait, neither of us are getting it as much as we want. Now they move to the same side of the table, and they can start to process and problem solve what’s getting in the way of both of us getting what we want. And it may be that, you know, I just don’t feel very connected to you and I need to feel connected in order to to get naked and playful. Or it may be that one of them says you know, the thing you’ve been doing, just it wounds me it kind of shuts me down. Or it may be that, you know, we’re really too busy. And we’re not prioritizing time together. We need to prioritize some time together. But they end as they’re talking about it, they engage in problem solving, what’s getting in the way of both of us not getting what we want.
You mentioned earlier, the word seduction, and it seems like what you’re saying here and what I’ve read before and what I’ve experienced is most of seduction doesn’t come in the bedroom. You know, when you’re seducing your partner and being sexy, like in the very overt way of we’re about to have sex, it’s connecting over the breakfast table and having a deep meaningful conversation because that’s what makes maybe someone feel more connected to their partner and then that’s gonna help create more desire.
Exactly. There’s an aspect of desire that is a bit more animalistic. It’s where the hormones kick in and then and, and we began to think and pursue that. And, you know, that’s going to be typically maybe younger for most people. But even then, Sex is contextual. Sex is complex, it takes a lot of things coming together for it to be great, but it’s contextual, and to be open and allow myself to fully, richly, deeply engage requires a relationship that feels safe relationship where I feel like I’m going to be honored a relationship where I feel like you want me we want each other. And that does require looking beyond just this moment. For animals that are, you know, for lionesses in estrus, he doesn’t have to do very much to seduce her body is driving this, this encounter for us as humans, our body doesn’t have nearly as much sway because what’s happening in our mind. And so I do like to spend time talking with couples about what what seduces you What draws you forward. And sometimes people will push back on that word, because it does have a negative connotation, but I like to point out that nobody can be seduced outside of their will. Doesn’t matter what somebody does in trying to seduce you chase, if you’re not open to it, it’s just not going to work. And so looking at a husband and saying, What is your wife do that draws you that was you that seduces you. And we can have a conversation about what kind of things are in our field. We’ll talk about brakes and accelerators. What kind of things are accelerators that speed up the process that draw you in? That are ways that she can seduce? Often quite honestly, those are fairly easy to, for him to identify, and she generally knows what those are. It can get a little complex in some couples, but it’s usually pretty understood when I look at wives though.